Agriculture

‘It’s all what Mother Nature is going to do’: Late spring planting in Kansas yields uncertainty

Aerial views of the widespread flooding in south-central Kansas

Drone video of floodwaters in Sumner, Cowley and Butler counties. (May 8, 2019)
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Drone video of floodwaters in Sumner, Cowley and Butler counties. (May 8, 2019)

An exceptionally wet and cool spring might have delayed the harvest of winter-planted wheat crops, but the same unseasonable weather could also slow the growth of spring row crops like corn, soybeans and sorghum in Kansas.

The United States Department of Agriculture reported that by June 16, 74 percent of the soybean crops in Kansas had been planted, behind 90 percent this time last year. At this point, 45 percent of the crops have emerged which is “well-behind” this time last year when 83 percent were emerged.

Corn in Kansas is fairing slightly better. Near to the yearly average, 96 percent of the crop has been planted, but only 83 percent has emerged. Based on the yearly average, 96 percent of the crop has usually emerged by now.

By June 16, 2018, 84 percent of the Sorghum crop was planted. This year, the USDA estimates that only about 55 percent of the crop is in the ground.

All the delays, Jesse McCurry, executive director of the Kansas Grain Sorghum Association, said, has to do with the abnormal amount of rain Kansas has received this spring.

“It’s all just rain delays and the fact that it’s hard to get equipment (in the field) and get everything done right when it’s raining half an inch every night,” McCurry said. “It’s all what Mother Nature is going to do.”

Rich Felts, president of that Kansas Farm Bureau and a farmer in southeast Kansas, owns farmland that falls within a floodplain. Earlier in the season, he planted corn, but things took a negative turn.

“We got the corn planted in pretty good shape, but there in the middle of May when it cut loose ... we had flooding on the creek,” Felts said. “We lost half our corn from the floodwater.”

And the rain didn’t stop there, by the time Felts was planting soybeans, more rain came.

“We (were) in worse shape than we were before,” Felts said. “I think one of the things is the economic impact that it’s going to have on some of these areas.”

Late planting can mean crops grow outside of “optimal” seasons, said Jeff Seiler, agriculture and natural resources extension agent for Sedgwick County, which means delayed growth.

Something that could have a major impact on the yield of the corn crop this year is a disease called southern rust, Seiler said. Not only does the corn disease thrive in warmer conditions, early onset can be detrimental to young corn crops.

“The closer the corn is to maturity, the less of an impact southern rust will have,” Seiler said. “The younger crops will be more impacted by it.”

In the long run, it can cause losses in the overall yield of a corn crop.

But, spring row crop farmers are trying to stay optimistic.

“If anything gets the right weather, it can end up doing alright,” Seiler said. “It’s just moisture. That’s the main thing. That’s the only thing.”

McCurry said he’s hopeful for what the end product of the season will be.

“I think we still have a really good chance of having a good crop,” McCurry said. “There’s times when we’re harvesting sorghum into the holiday season.”

It’s just a waiting game, he said.

“We need some heat, we need some dryness,” McCurry said. “We need to get the crop in.”

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